If improving teacher quality is the number one (hat tip Lee Rakes) way to improve education, what are some ways districts and states can do that? I wish I had the magic answer, but I do think we have some examples for the right direction.
1. Support beginning teachers better. Mentor teachers are a start but not enough. One year my dad worked in a quasi-administrative position as a support for first year teachers in his district. The situation was ideal for those teachers because he was in a solely supportive role, not evaluative. He also observed experienced teachers who excelled in challenging situations the first year teachers were having so that he could share ideas. Since his position was districtwide, he facilitated conversations between teachers in different schools. I would take this idea and expand it to include the first three years of teaching. The position could be full or part-time for a master teacher, depending on the size of the district.
2. Provide more time for working collaboratively. Teaching in isolation can lead to burn-out and lack of growth. Working as teams, either as grade levels in elementary school or middle school or as content areas in high school, can help the more inexperienced teachers learn, invigorate the veterans and improve everyone. Time for cross-team work such as interschool or across the grades needs to increase also. Parents at my kids’ elementary school were surprised to learn that teachers only met with their counterparts at the other elementary schools twice a year and on specific topics. A subject such as math may not be addressed formally at all in a year. I, personally, thought the district was generous in giving them two times to meet—an obvious difference in perspective from an educational point of view than a business point of view.
3. Require meaningful professional development. I’ve been to workshops, conferences, classes and meetings that have made me a better teacher and ones that have been a waste of time. Targeted professional development though is necessary for any profession, including teaching. One of the reasons I chose my children’s pediatric group was that the doctors attended weekly lectures at Children’s Hospital. Doctors also must keep up by reading journals and attending lectures and conferences. I expect educators to do the same.
4. Change student teaching structure. Student teaching should be a one-year, paid internship for those who have already completed their degree. Schools have a commitment to student teachers and I like that my children’s pediatric group has residents, but as a parent I don’t like student teachers. They are put in charge of the class too quickly and make transitions hard on the younger kids. A one-year internship would give them a better feel for teaching in a more gradual manner. Teaching is a challenge; we should provide support instead of taking the “throw them in and see who makes it” approach.
5. Increase teacher pay. This is a capitalistic economy. To get a stronger teaching pool, we need to increase the pay. I’m not talking about the exceptions or individuals but about the profession as a whole. This may not be the only change needed, as Bill Gates said on Fareed Zakaria’s show last Sunday, but it is certainly one of them.
6. Increase difficulty level of teacher education schools. This is a whole area in itself, but if we are going to work on increasing teacher pay and making the profession more respected, the typical teacher ed program can NOT be the easiest school at the university. Period. Requiring teachers to act like professionals by keeping up with education research starts in teacher ed programs. The direction of education is often decided by politicians and “policy experts.” Too many teachers stay out of the discussions. Besides the theory, ed schools need to have their students involved in schools early, not wait until student teaching. (See posts Get them into the classrooms, Lessons from med school)
7. Change the salary schedule and change to a system in which districts can fire the teachers who have quit teaching.
Improving teacher quality and teacher ed schools is one of my passions. I would love to hear other ideas.
I have been inspired this past month when I started reading the edublogs. When I go into the office this week to prep for classes, I will be spending time reworking some of my PowerPoints, thanks to Scott Elias and Tom Woodward.
One of my friends who took the Missouri required Technology in Education course for his teacher ed prep last semester told me that he struggled staying awake in class (he liked the instructur, really he did) because half the class knew nothing about computers. His idea was to offer two courses, Tech in Ed and Tech in Ed for neophytes. (Titles may be changed for PC purposes.) Students who have grown up with cell phones and have MySpace pages just have a different technology mindset than veteran teachers who are just becoming comfortable with email.
Some districts include use of technology as part of the teachers' evaluation, which would obviously encourage them to work to increase their knowledge. Dan Meyer wonders if forcing teachers to use technology is the answer. I think baby steps is the answer here.
Sometimes it seems as if teachers assign students projects using technology without helping them to properly focus. Anthony Chivetta blogs about the making videos interesting. A student blogging about the importance of thesis even in video--this writing teacher is in love. Woo hoo! I will keep his advice in mind when creating assignments.
Maybe I should also integrate a class wiki and make better use of that Smart Board. Sigh. I only have so much time!
Update--even before getting the post up, I turned one written project into a group wiki. Migrating to a new version of Blackboard over the holiday break just made this a whole lot easier.
I've always been impressed by the six-year pre med/med school program my brother attended at UMKC. Students there are accepted out of high school into an intensive program that combines pre med with med school so that they end up receiving both degrees at the same time. Practically speaking this means that students theory and practice are interwoven through the six years.
Students of varying years are placed together in a team with a docent. They make rounds with their team and are given increasing responsibilities at the hospital as they further their studies. They start making rounds the first week of school. I remember my brother needing to buy a lot of ties!
❝Docents are responsible for their own docent unit, comprised of 10 to 12 students. Year 3 students join a new docent unit and have individual offices at either the medical school or St. Luke’s Hospital. Docent units include Years 3-6 students, a clinical pharmacologist, an education team coordinator, a docent and other health care professionals.❞
We can implement quite a few of these into a strong teacher education program.
Get them into the classroom
Just like in my previous post, I believe students studying education need to be in the classroom right away. I love how the pre-med students were in the hospital making rounds their first week of college. What a great motivation! Integrating theory becomes so much easier when they see and experience teaching from the beginning.
Put them into teams
Teaching is no longer the isolated profession it used to be (or at least shouldn't be). Learning from each other and learning how to work with each other should be part of the culture.
Strengthen their academics
Truman University has experimented with requiring their education students to get their bachelor's in their content area or, for elementary ed students, in a related field like psychology and then get a master's in education. The students plan the program from the start as many of their undergraduate electives need to be education classes, especially elementary ed. I know that combining undergrad and grad isn't the answer for every program, but I do know that strengthening the academics overall is key.
The boys at St. Louis University High School do a three week-long community service project their senior year. One of the options is to work in various local elementary schools. They are there all day, in the same classroom, for three weeks, not observing but helping. The boys are to keep a daily journal, complete a written report and follow-up with a discussion with their faculty advisor. By the way, the kids love the them.
While few of these young men will probably go into teaching, especially elementary, they probably will have more classroom experience than most elementary education majors before their student teaching semester. I believe that education majors need to get in the classroom much earlier in their degree programs and not just to observe. An intensive intersession during the first year of schooling would help education students know if they really want to teach before their final semester and provide some context for their theoretical studies. While the SLUH program is for community service, it showed me a glimpse of what our teacher ed programs should be doing.
The other day I was talking to a friend who is in college in a teacher ed program. He made the comment that you study all this pointless theory and then you get slammed when you student teach. I happen to disagree that the theory is pointless, but I definitely agree that you get "slammed" when you student teach and believe that the theory would be more meaningful after you have started some teaching.
I talked to other friends who teach and supervise student teachers in hopes of learning that the teacher ed world has made great strides since I was more directly in the field. Nope.
In that spirit I plan on making several posts presenting my ideas on teacher ed. I have yet to read up on what others are saying but will do so and, of course, comment. These first posts, however, are some ideas I've had based on my own experiences and/or observations.